All About Life Campaign Update

I don’t know how I missed this when I first blogged about the AAL campaign but the Young Australian Skeptics posted today a link to the alternate site Jesus, All About Lies.  The site is great, with some much better piss-take versions of the ads than my poor attempts and also good, serious critiques of Christianity.  I’ll be adding this one to my RSS reader.

Happy God Damn Blasphemy Day

Today is International Blasphemy Day, an initiative by the Centre for Inquiry seeking to

“establish September 30th as a day to promote free speech and to stand up in a show of solidarity for the freedom to challenge, criticize, and satirize religion without fear of murder, litigation, or reprisal.  The event was created as a reaction against those who would seek to take away the right to satirize and criticize a particular set of beliefs that have been given a privileged status over other beliefs”

In the wake of the Dutch newspaper Jyllands-Posten publishing cartoons of Mohammad on this day in 2005, and the uproar and rioting from the Muslim world that followed, the UN chose take a stance against free speech. A resolution banning criticism of religion was proposed, which would remove people’s rights to question and critique those things with which they don’t agree. Questioning someone’s belief in God, religious practices or beliefs, should be no different to criticising which football team they support, or which political party they voted for in the last election.

Of the triangle of traditional dinner party taboo topics (religion, sex, politics), religion is probably the only one that legitimately persists. Amongst a dinner party of my own friends, there would be no qualms discussing sexual or political topics, or going so far as to make jokes about someone’s sexual preferences or political leanings. But religion is a topic that would not be broached, and I have even been chastised by a friend for making a (very tame) religious joke/observation.

We live in a world where punishments for blasphemy range from fines to lengthy prison sentences, particularly in the Middle East. Thankfully, here in Australia no blasphemy laws are enforced. So get out there and blaspheme for Christ’s sake!

For more information on International Blasphemy day, visit:

Quack homeopath and wife jailed for daughter’s manslaughter

As their 9 month old baby girl suffered from oozing skin sores and malnutrition that turned her black hair white, Thomas and Manju Sam gave their daughter homeopathic ‘treatments’ and refused to seek proper medical help for their daughter until it was too late.

Baby Gloria’s father has been sentenced to 6 years jail, while her mother has been sentenced to 4.

This story from The Age, contains the following quote

Thomas Sam was sentenced to at least six years in jail, with a maximum sentence of eight years. Additional consideration was given to the fact he was treating his young daughter.

This statement is ambiguous to me. The ABC article however, paints a clearer picture, saying

Thomas Sam got the longer sentence of at least six years because, as a homeopath, he had a double duty of care.

So it appears that despite that fact that Thomas Sam’s (or anybody’s for that matter) homeopathic ‘treatments’ do not work, he has failed as her alternative-medicine practitioner by not curing her?

The judge appears to be confused here, on the one hand he has sentenced the Sams to jail for manslaughter because they failed to seek treatment for their sick daughter. But on the other hand, the father, as a practicing homeopath has somehow failed in his professional duty to treat his patient by means proven to be ineffective. WTF?

Indeed, if you read the court decision notes, the judge accepts homeopathy as a legitimate method of treatment, and none of the notes from the evidence of expert witnesses suggest that any of them tried to discredit the practice of homeopathy either.

The papers have also failed to mention that the couple also have a 3 year old son, who is in good health. Although it will certainly be devastating for him to lose both parents while they are serving their jail terms, in the event that he falls ill at least he may have a chance of receiving medical attention.

The World’s Longest Running Experiment

The School of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Queensland holds the record for the longest continuously running scientific experiment. This experiment, known as the ‘Pitch Drop Experiment’ and has been running for 82 years.

The pitch drop experiment, with the current custodian Professor John Mainstone

The pitch drop experiment, with the experiment's custodian Professor John Mainstone (from UQ Media Archive)

In 1927, Professor Thomas Parnell (the first professor of physics at UQ) wanted to demonstrate that some substances that appear to have the properties of a solid, are actually extremely viscous liquids. Pitch is another name for bitumen, which is obtained through the fractional distillation of crude oil where it is collected as the bottom, residual layer. The picture below demonstrates that despite the appearance of the pitch drop experiment, the pitch itself is not sticky or soft and in fact feels hard, smooth and glass-like to the touch.

Pitch (Picture from UQ School of Mathematics and Physics

Pitch (Picture from UQ School of Mathematics and Physics

Parnell was an educator, and set up the pitch drop experiment primarily as a demonstration, rather than a strictly controlled scientific experiment. Indeed, the viscosity of pitch varies enormously with temperature and in particular, daily temperature fluctuations decrease the viscosity. Despite the effect on the experiment of known variable of temperature, the viscosity of the pitch was calculated and determined to have a viscosity 230 billion times that of water. A paper was published in the European Journal of Physics in 1984, and can be viewed here on the UQ Pitch Drop website. Web of Science does not show any other papers published since and therefore no update on the calculated viscosity since the fall of the last two drops, which occurred after air conditioning was installed in the building housing the experiment.

In over 8 decades that experiment has been running, there have been 8 drops of pitch fall, the last being in November 2000. No one has ever witnessed the fall of a drop either, so if you want to see the next drop for yourself, keep a close eye on the webcam. The interval between drops has ranged from 7 to 12 years, so we can expect the next drop to fall any moment now…

A bad article from the ABC about swine flu vaccination

On Saturday the ABC published this online news article about the national swine flu vaccination program.

They followed up this online article with an interview starring Queen Crazy herself, Meryl Dorey on ABC News Radio. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy is a true mate of Aussie skeptics and has given this issue and airing on his blog.

I have sent the following complaint to ABC news:

Please remove this article on your news website and stop giving publicity to Meryl Dorey and the Australian Vaccination Network. The 7:30 Report also gave the AVN the publicity they crave to spread their lies and misinformation on September 2nd. At least the story on the 7:30 report contained interviews with reputable doctors. Unfortunately the same can not be said for Saturday’s article.

The development of vaccines against fatal diseases is one of the great triumphs of science. No longer do children have to die, or suffer permanent disability from diseases like measles and polio.
Meryl Dorey and the AVN, by spreading lies about vaccines are putting the lives of Australian children at risk.

When reporting matters that concern public health, experts quoted in articles should be MEDICAL DOCTORS or public health professionals. Not crazy people promoting a dangerous agenda.

I like to keep it short, sweet and to the point. If you feel strongly about this issue, as I do, please contact the ABC and let them know of your disappointment.

Thank you Jesus for… irony?

Last week The 7PM Project touched on a new campaign from the Bible Society called All About Life. Charlie Pickering and co. alleged the campaign was an attempt to rebrand Jesus and make religion cool, with such cutesy-poo and hurl-worthy slogans such as ‘Thank you Jesus for wabbits’ and ‘Thanks for hot chips. Amen’.

And the site asks for user contributions along the same vein. However, when I visited the site I was pleasantly surprised to see the fantastic sense of humour Australian Christians have shown thus far.

Case in point #1
Q. God, the tooth fairy, an intelligent Fremantle fan, and an old drunk are walking down the street together when they simultaneously spot a $100.00 note. Who gets it?
A. The drunk of course; the other three are mythical creatures.

Case in point #2
Support a good cause by visiting this website. Say no more.

Case in point #3

  • AFL vs NRL
  • Melbourne was the capital of Australia
  • Melbourne had the Olympics first
  • etags vs toll gates
  • Melbourne Cup Day public holiday.

Hey whaddaya know! The Christians made some funnies right? …riiight?

Creation – The movie about the life of Charles Darwin

Due for release in Australia in the first half of 2010, Creation is a movie about Charles Darwin and The Origin of Species. Starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connolly, the film explores the relationship between Charles and Emma, how they coped with the loss of a child and the ramifications of the publication of Darwin’s great book. Bettany and Connolly are married in real life, and should have excellent on-screen chemistry.

The film was debuted last week at the Toronto Film Festival, and there has been some concern that it won’t be distributed in The States.
However as Larry Moran points out at Sandwalk, this may all be a ploy to drum up publicity or start a bidding war. As a film that is getting a mainstream release, I suspect there will probably be not a lot of science in the movie but that won’t stop me dragging Other Half along to see it.

You can view the trailer here.

Geek Chic

Via Sandwalk, I’ve come across Etsy seller ShopGibberish. If this is not the coolest stuff ever, I don’t know what is. Julie is a high school chemistry teacher from California who makes periodic table themed jewellery from glass tiles and scrabble pieces.

Julie has taken a little artistic licence, with her creations and the elemental symbols are in lower case only. However, I have forgiven her for this because her work is so darn spiffy.

Other cool science-themed jewellery can be found at Made With Molecules, DNA Store, MolecularMuse and Cytoplasm.

Pre-order Fail

As per my previous post, I pre-ordered The Greatest Show on Earth through Amazon. Although the Aussie Dollar was doing very well at the time against the Greenback and I’ve saved myself ~$15 from buying in the shops, it has been released here already! 3 weeks before it is due out in The States. Boo. Waiting, waiting…

ABC 7:30 Report on vaccination

Tonight the ABC aired a report on the death of baby Dana McCaffery from whooping cough and the rise of the anti-vaccination movement in Australia. Although the report concluded favourably on the view that vaccination is an absolute public health necessity, journalists continue to insist on sticking to their ‘2 sides to every story’ dogma.

Interviews with paediatricians and the McCaffery family were given more air time than Meryl Dorey, the Australian Vaccination Network and the NSW North Coast new-age hippies but I feel that the naming and acknowledgement in particular of the AVN is unecessary. It gives those already erring towards an anti-vaccination stance somewhere to start their search for more (mis-)information. There was no mention of any other organisation or information source that would guide parents to some real, evidence-based information on vaccinations.

Organisations such as the AVN breed fear, paranoia and distrust of science and medicine, and don’t deserve to be given the publicity afforded to them by the 7:30 report. I’d bet a million bucks that there will be more Google searches for ‘Australian Vaccination Network’ than for ‘NSW Department of Health’ as a result of that report tonight.